Some of Kevin Woodall Jr.’s Coastal Carolina teammates can lift more than he can in the weight room, and they’re not averse to letting him hear about it.
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, the first baseman is the largest man on the team.
“Some of those guys are stronger than me and they give me flack, like ‘You’re so big but I’m stronger than you,’ ” Woodall said.
Their favorable strength comparisons don’t carry over to the baseball field, however.
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“I’m not the strongest guy on the team, but when we get on the field I can hit it the farthest,” Woodall said. “I say, ‘It all comes down to how far you can hit the ball, and I can hit it farther than you can.’ ”
He’s been proving it all season.
The Georgetown High graduate led the Sun Belt Conference in the regular season and ranked eighth nationally with 18 home runs, and led the conference and ranked 24th nationally with 60 runs batted in.
“I don’t really try to hit home runs,” Woodall said. “I just put good swings on balls and they go far.”
His power surge is a big reason the Chanticleers posted a 37-18-1 record in the regular season and enter this week’s Sun Belt Conference Baseball Tournament as the No. 1 seed with a 22-7-1 league record.
It was desperately needed this season.
Coastal led the nation in home runs last season but lost almost all of its power to graduation or the Major League Baseball draft. In particular, Zach Remillard, G.K. Young, Connor Owings and Michael Paez combined to account for 68 of CCU’s 96 home runs with at least 15 apiece.
Woodall’s production as a junior this season is more impressive because of the lack of significant power around his No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the lineup. Leadoff hitter Billy Cooke has 10 homers and is the only other Chant with more than seven.
“What those four guys from last year that did so much of that damage, I don’t know if they realized how each of them complemented each other,” Coastal head coach Gary Gilmore said. “You kind of had to pick your poison trying to figure out how to pitch us and control our team last year. … With our team this year, we have some very good hitters, we just don’t have four guys hitting 15 to 22 home runs. We have one guy that does that.
“You get pitched a lot different. You get tons of breaking balls. You get 2-0 counts and very few people throw you a fastball. They throw you a breaking ball because they’re willing to walk you knowing the guy behind you is not a legitimate every single at-bat type guy who can go out of the yard. He’s had to learn. He’s never been pitched that way in college.”
Our offense is a little different this year. It’s not the big power offense that it was last year. We have guys up and down the lineup who are going to scatter four or five home runs. We excel at different things, short-game things, running the bases well, and I think that’s one thing we’re better at this year than we were last year is we’re a lot faster of an offense this year.
Kevin Woodall Jr.
Woodall arrived at CCU at about 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, so he has added a couple inches of height and 50 pounds, predominantly of muscle. The plan from the beginning was to build out his frame.
“The first month I think I gained 10 pounds just like that,” Woodall said. “Coming in I knew I wasn’t going to be a fast guy, a guy who can steal a lot of bases or something like that. I knew I was going to have to hit for power, and getting in the weight room and putting on the muscle and working with the strength coaches, that’s what I’m here for.”
The power was slow to surface. Woodall had just three home runs and two doubles in 143 plate appearances in his first two seasons.
He is four homers shy of the CCU single-season record of 22 set by John Rigos in 1983, has 11 doubles, and said the power this year “is a byproduct of work. Getting in the weight room steadily and putting on a lot of weight and muscle, I think it’s a byproduct of that, and working with [associate head coach Kevin] Schnall and coach Gilmore my swing has gotten a lot better.”
The First Team All-Sun Belt selection is batting .261 with a .368 on-base percentage with the help of a discerning eye at the plate and 32 walks, and has reached base with a hit, walk or hit by pitch in 51 of CCU’s 56 games this season.
He is second in the conference with 122 total bases and seventh with a .560 slugging percentage, and finished the regular season strong, batting .400 with four runs scored and five RBIs in the final week.
Last season Woodall batted .207 with just three home runs, two doubles and 17 RBI in 92 at-bats. His on-base percentage was .333 with 14 walks.
Woodall played in all but seven of CCU’s 73 games last season en route to the NCAA title, though he started just 18 games and was primarily a defensive replacement in late innings because of his wingspan and range while playing behind Tyler Chadwick and G.K. Young. He also occasionally pinch hit.
“You have your frustrating moments, you know. Everybody wants to play,” Woodall said. “But there comes a time when you know coach Gilmore is making the right decision for the team and you have to understand that and you just embrace your role. That’s what I told myself last year and I knew I was going to be the guy this year. So I just had to wait on my time.”
He played in two games in the 2016 regional at N.C. State, played in one in the super regional at LSU, then played extensively in the College World Series because of an injury to Seth Lancaster that led to Chadwick moving to second base.
“Getting into the College World Series was a great experience,” Woodall said. “Finally to get in and play every day at the biggest stage in college baseball was awesome.”
Woodall was coached for three years at Georgetown High by legend Mike Johnson before being coached by Ben Waddle as a senior. “His old ways are unique and fun to be around,” Woodall said of Johnson. “You learn a lot of baseball IQ things from him.”
In addition to culling from Johnson’s vat of baseball knowledge, Woodall’s game benefited from the wisdom of his father, who played in the minor leagues for five years after being drafted by the Texas Rangers in the sixth round of the 1990 Major League Baseball draft.
Woodall Sr., who now works for a Nucor contractor that inserts minerals into steel, assisted with the development of both Woodall and his friends and teammates growing up.
“The group of guys I grew up with, I think he realized we kind of had a chance to be decent so he figured he’d show us how to play the game,” Woodall said. “I felt I had a good feel and baseball IQ coming into college.”
Despite putting up impressive numbers in high school, Woodall wasn’t heavily recruited and had committed to attend Florence-Darlington Technical College before receiving a late call from Gilmore.
“I almost graduated high school before I got in touch with Coastal,” Woodall said. “It was kind of like a last-minute thing.”
Gilmore’s intention was to redshirt Woodall as a freshman, but he showed enough intangibles to be too valuable to sit out the entire season. He played in 29 games and had eight singles in 25 at-bats for a .320 average. “He wants to win. That kid’s a winner,” Gilmore said. “He was Mr. Georgetown in high school.”
Woodall could become Mr. Coastal Carolina this postseason, or if he returns to CCU for his senior season.
“Depending on what happens with Woody in the draft, I can see him as a guy next year who hits equally as many and probably even more home runs, but instead of being a .250, .260 hitter he’s a .360 hitter and he’s knocking in 90 or 100 runs,” Gilmore said.
Kevin Woodall Jr.’s stats